Covid-19Magazine Exclusive

Warming hearts and bodies

Volunteers pose with some of the coats from the “Coats for Connecticut” program.

When “Maria” finally had enough of domestic violence, she packed up her four children late one night and fled Puerto Rico with just two bags and the clothes on her back.

The desperate mother arrived in New York City and learned that several organizations that help domestic violence victims could be found in Connecticut. Her family stayed in a shelter in Meriden, Conn., and soon she was at The Salvation Army.

Lieutenants Mike and Kate Borrero, the corps officers in Meriden, met Maria and helped put her in touch with anti–domestic violence groups. Despite the December cold, her children were still dressed in shorts and flip flops. The Borreros provided the family with coats, sweaters, boots, shoes, food, and even Christmas toys. They also told Maria about the Pathway of Hope program.

However, arriving from tropical Puerto Rico to a cold Connecticut in December made getting a warm coat Maria’s biggest need.

Lieutenant Mike said, “We had just received this beautiful, elegant coat that somebody had just donated. It was almost brand new. It fit her perfectly. It was her size exactly.”

The coat came to The Salvation Army, thanks to the 12th-annual “Coats for Connecticut” program, which involves The Salvation Army and Best Cleaners of Connecticut, a dry cleaning and tailoring company.

“The coats were a key, first–point of help,” Lieutenant Mike said. “Through her needing the coats for her family, and coming to us, we were able to get her deeper assistance and long-term solutions.

“We were able to bombard her with so much assistance. If it wasn’t for those coats, I don’t really think she would have found us and gotten all that help.”

Debbie Camner, director of advancement for the Salvation Army’s Southern New England Division, said organizers anticipate receiving more than 10,000 coats this year through “Coats for Connecticut.” Since its inception 12 years ago, the program has collected 120,000 coats.

Best Cleaners said it started the program with the primary goal of “putting its eco-friendly dry cleaning services to work to help people in need get through the cold winter months.”

“Given the pandemic and its impact on family finances, the need for coats is greatly increased, and the need for clean coats is critical,” a company representative said.

 

How the program works

People throughout Connecticut drop off gently used or new coats to any of Best Cleaners’ 13 locations through November. The staff then professionally dry cleans each garment, and makes sure buttons are secure and zippers work.

“In the past, Best Cleaners delivered the coats to our corps, but this year because of COVID–19, they deliver them once a week to a central location,” Camner said.

That location was a 4,000-square-foot storefront in the Meriden Mall where the coats are received and sorted by Salvation Army volunteers. “Imagine getting upwards of 2,000 coats a week to sort through. It’s a huge process,” Camner said.

Corps volunteers then picked up the coats and distributed them.

“It’s working well this year because the officers have a little bit more control over what they receive and they’re picking them up on their time,” Camner said. “It’s a better situation all around.”

Camner said the corps normally advertise the availability of coats on social media. They’re also given away when people come for food distribution or to a soup kitchen. The Salvation Army keeps a stock of coats at shelters and at two early childhood learning centers.

“Many kids show up to school without a coat,” Camner said.

During winter, the weather in Connecticut can turn bitterly cold. Camner said coats are stored at the corps and are given out all year.

“It’s such a simple thing, but it makes a world of difference if someone is actually warm,” she said. “The folks at Best Cleaners are just unbelievable with the massive amounts of coats they provide. Everyone in Connecticut knows if they have a coat that they’re not using, they should bring it to Best Cleaners and they’ll make sure it gets in good hands. We appreciate how Best Cleaners trusts us to do this service for them.”

 

Minding their business

Shawn McCann, owner and president of Best Cleaners in Connecticut, said giving back to the community is “woven into” the company’s 66-year history.

“As a family-owned business, we realize the importance of putting our cleaning and delivery skills to work for the benefit of less fortunate people who are right here in Connecticut where winter weather can be extreme,” McCann said.

“Given the challenges of operating during the pandemic, our decision to move forward with this year’s campaign was not made lightly. But we knew the need would be greater than ever before and we knew we could count on our customers and campaign partners to make it happen. We are still cleaning coats but anticipate reaching the 10,000 mark.”

McCann thanked The Salvation Army for securing a central location for the weekly deliveries. That kept the company from exposing staff and volunteers at multiple locations during the pandemic.

Other partners in the program are WFSB-NEWS 3, Two Men and a Truck, and Young’s Printing/Fast Signs.

by Robert Mitchell

Visit “Coats for Connecticut” for more information or give.salvationarmy.org/Coats-for-CT.

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